Interior Department opens Alaska North Slope to oil biz; enviros applaud

The US Interior Department July 16 opened 2.6 million acres of potentially oil-rich territory in northern Alaska to exploration, but deferred for ten years a decision on opening 600,000 acres north of Teshekpuk Lake that is the summer home of thousands of migrating caribou and millions of waterfowl. Drilling leases will be sold later this year for much of the northeast section of the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska (NPR-A), holding an estimated 3.7 billion barrels of oil, according to Tom Lonnie, Alaska state director for the Bureau of Land Management, in a conference call with reporters.

Lonnie said he expects the first oil production to begin in the easternmost part of the reserve, west of the Colville River, from 2010 to 2012. A ConocoPhillips oil complex is already operating on Alaska state lands on the eastern banks of the river. The BLM has already leased out 965,000 acres of the petroleum reserve lands.

Stan Senner, executive director of Audubon Alaska, applauded the decision not to drill north of Teshekpuk, near Beaufort Sea, saying that it “acknowledges the international importance of the Teshekpuk wetlands, which have been protected by every federal administration since Jimmy Carter.”

The Trans-Alaska Pipeline System currently transports 700,000 barrels of oil daily, down from 2.1 million when the Prudhoe Bay fields were at peak production in 1988. If the amount of oil in the pipeline falls too low in the Arctic climate, it is not able to flow south to the tankers that ship it to California for processing. (NYT, Oil & Gas Journal, July 17)

Alaska’s Gov. Sarah Palin has meanwhile announced a plan for a new pipeline to bring natural gas from the North Slope to the Anchorage area, bringing together two separate proposals from ENSTAR Natural Gas and the Alaska Natural Gas Development Authority. (Bond Buyer, July 18)

So here we have Audubon applauding the opening of 2.6 million acres of the North Slope to ConocoPhillips and their ilk, indicating that the land north of Teshekpuk was put forth as a strawman—and Audubon fell for it. Thanks, guys.

See our last posts on global oil and the struggle for Alaska.